Thursday, September 27, 2012

The History of the Christmas Stocking

Most families celebrating Christmas will be familiar with Christmas stockings. Generally hung either above the fireplace, by the Christmas tree or at the end of a child's bed, they're traditionally filled with small gifts or candy from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

While there are no written records of the origin of the Christmas stocking, there are a number of legends associated with it. Here are just a few.

The European theory
Some say that traditionally in Europe, children would place their boots, filled with straw, carrots or sugar, near the chimney to feed Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir. Odin would reward the children by replacing Sleipner's food with gifts or treats. Later this German-Belgian tradition was merged with that of the Netherlands, and became associated with Saint Nicholas.

The Dutch theory
One legend tells of a kind nobleman whose wife had died of an illness, leaving the widower and his three daughters in despair. With no money, the nobleman was unable to get his daughter's married, and had grave concerns for their future.

One night, Saint Nicholas was passing through the village when he overheard villagers talking about the nobleman and his daughters. Wanting to help the family, he secretly visited their home that night.

Before going to bed, the daughters had washed out their clothing and hung their stockings over the fireplace to dry. Noticing the stockings as he peeked through the window, Saint Nicholas was struck by inspiration. He took three small bags of gold from his pouch and threw them carefully, one by one, down the chimney and into the stockings.

When the daughters awoke the next morning, they were overjoyed to discover enough gold for them to be married. The nobleman was then able to see his three daughters married, and they all lived long and happy lives.

This story is said to have led to the custom of children hanging stockings out on Christmas Eve, hoping for gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes in the story, the bags of gold are replaced with gold balls - which is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are the symbol of Saint Nicholas.

Today, most families practice their own versions of the tradition. Some fill their stockings with small gifts, some fill them with candy or fruit. But for many children, waking to see their Christmas stockings filled with gifts is one of the most magical parts of Christmas morning - and that's the best reason to continue this special tradition!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tips for an Organised Christmas Season

For many people, Christmas is a time to celebrate, relax and enjoy family time. But for some, organising Christmas while juggling work commitments, family members, gift shopping and social engagements can be too much stress to handle! To ensure you can enjoy the holiday season, take a look at these tips to ensure you have an organised Christmas season.

If you're cooking for a lot of people, chances are your kitchen (and fridge) just won't be able to cope with the volume of food required. Not to mention, trying to cook and prepare everything yourself can be a huge burden. By delegating certain tasks or meals to different family members or friends, you can make your job much simpler. Let other family members take care of cold dishes like salads and desserts so you can focus on the hot dishes and save room in your kitchen. Remember, you don't have to do it all yourself - you're always entitled to ask for help from friends and family!

Do you really need a Christmas tree, a wreath, and fairy lights? Is a Christmas playlist really necessary? Do you really need six types of Christmas cookies? Taking on everything at once and trying to control every detail will just cause unnecessary stress. Every family has their own traditions and special requirements - so stop and think about what matters most. Is it the decorations? The food? The people? Make a list of the three most important details for Christmas, and focus on them first and foremost. The other little details aren't as important as you having a stress-free day and a good time!

With gift shopping, preparing the house for visitors, cooking and baking to organise, you probably have a lot to juggle as Christmas approaches. Being prepared before the Christmas rush hits will save you a lot of time and stress - allowing you to relax and enjoy the holiday season. Do some of your Christmas food shopping in October or November, buy presents early or order them online, and make a list of what needs to be done. Ticking tasks off your list gradually throughout November and December will ensure an easy, stress-free Christmas.

Keep it simple
Christmas doesn't have to be elaborate to be enjoyable. A simple BBQ or casual meal with family will do just fine - as will just one gift per person. Good music, good company and plenty of food is enough to keep most people happy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Seasons Cheatings

I know we have a month or so until Christmas, but why does everyone seem so busy and worried? Maybe it's because of all that has happened over the last month, or maybe it is just that normal insanity that seems to take over at this time of year. We want to buy the newest, favorite thing, and we have to try and create the perfect memory (again). We all know that it won't be perfect - we'll stand on line for the one thing we can't find, the dog will throw up from eating something he shouldn't have, and the children will be so exhausted they'll just play with the wrapping paper.

And, that is what the Holidays should be about (mistakes always make for a better story). So, while we strive to get it all done, I thought I could suggest some easy ways to cheat during the Holidays, and perhaps let you enjoy a little bit of peace and joy in-between.

Make a great, (semi) homemade dessert: Buy good quality cookie dough and vanilla ice cream from the supermarket. Bake the cookies (takes about 15 minutes). Sprinkle some sugar, chocolate chips, crushed candy canes or edible glitter on the top before baking. When ready for dessert, assemble the most delicious ice cream sandwiches.

Plan at least one occasion that includes all the people you like: We all know that this is a time of obligation, but don't forget to spend time with your friends and family that you really cherish. Knowing you have this to look forward to, will help you get through the other stuff. Plan a time, and invite them asap.

Schedule a half day, or evening, to write lists, cards and plan your present buying: Being organized will save you a ton of time and stress in the long run. Pajamas and a glass of egg-nog optional.

Expect to forget: Buy a couple of nice, generic gifts now, or, put some money aside for last minute purchases. My go-to is always something edible (of course). Buy striped candy canes and white chocolate at the supermarket (and containers). White chocolate peppermint bark is easy, tastes delicious (even if you don't like white chocolate and peppermint), inexpensive, and looks really pretty and festive!

Write down a couple of outfits that you know are perfect for an occasion, and post the list inside your closet: No more last minute frustration staring in the mirror, wondering what to wear.

Challenge yourself to stop and think before you go out and buy more stuff: Do you really want to take the time to buy more nodding reindeer for the garden, another scented candle and 27 types of wrapping paper?

Be flexible, and don't be store/brand loyal: If you see something just as good (or different) somewhere else, get it.

Schedule time for things that will make you feel good: Go to a community Tree-lighting, a Christmas Concert, Holiday fair or Bake sale. Volunteer or Donate to something that you really believe in. Watch cartoons on the television, or rent a favorite family movie.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Country Christmas in Las Vegas 2012

Growing up in a small Indiana town a short bike ride to the corn fields and my grandparents' farm was not much farther away. I can't remember even one Christmas season when my city grandmother didn't sit at her kitchen table and string popcorn to hang on the tree.

My country grandparents' decorated a tree with red and green paper chains, clip-on candles and ice cycles. I haven't folded the pages of a TV Guide into my own little Christmas tree to keep in my bedroom in years.

The family gathering to hear my father read the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2. Waking up to a new BB gun, Lawn Jarts or the pogo stick Santa left me under the tree are past. But the warm feeling the Christmas season creates when I smell warm apple cider or see pinecones on a tree take me home again.

The pond in the cow pasture froze every winter for us to build a bon fire on and skate for days on end; it's nowhere to be found here in Las Vegas.

Casinos in Las Vegas display the most extravagant and beautiful Christmas decorations in Las Vegas. The decorations bring together the magical beauty and grace found in a Cirque De Sole show with a Freemont Street multi concert and light show.

In mid November, a group of friends enjoyed tent camping at Red Rock Canyon just west of Las Vegas. It was the start of my Christmas season when I was far enough from the Strip to see the stars. It was looking at the night sky that reminded me of the pictures in my fathers' family Bible of the Christmas night with a beam of light between heaven and earth. Yes it was the Luxor light surrounded by twinkling stars, there was no manger with a newborn Christ child inside, but the feelings of knowing the Christmas season was about to start was real.

I was blessed to enjoy the Christmas season growing up in Indiana. From Cleveland to Nashville and more recently in Orange County where Jim and Susan opened their home on Christmas Eve and Roger and Ellen always made me feel like family on Christmas morning. Although I never told either, there wasn't one time I left there homes after a Christmas gathering, I wasn't so overwhelmed from all the love they shared that I didn't wipe the tears from my eyes.

This year my home is in Las Vegas. A tree decorated with popcorn balls, candy apples, strings of cranberries and an angel on top brings home the feeling and memories of love that make the season a Country Christmas no matter where I live.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Fantastic Garden Route

South Africa is a place where you can expect to find many different things to enjoy. As the most developed economy in Africa, South Africa is a great place for tourists with the best facilities to cater for the same. South Africa has a lot to look forward to. The wildlife is incredible and the plant and bird life is also something to behold. South Africa is not all about wildlife. There are the most fascinating landscapes as well as mountains, valleys, forests as well as waterfalls.

The garden route is a great place for a self drive as it is rich in resources. It lies in between the Indian Ocean and Quartzite mountains. This is in the Western Cape South Africa. It is a very beautiful drive and has some of the most scenic areas in the whole world.

The N2 highway is a stretch starting in Mossel Bay up to Port Elizabeth. The scenery throughout is most fascinating. There are some of the most beautiful coastlines as well as lagoons, estuaries, ravines, waterfalls, mountains and very steep cliffs in the area. This makes it a great place attracting a great number of tourists to the region.

To enjoy the whole garden route, it would be better to take it as a self drive itinerary so as to move from one region to the next enjoying stops at various places. Some areas that are the best include George. It is a perfect place for water sports like sailing and windsurfing. It is also ideal for hiking activities. The next place that shouldn't be missed is the Knysna which can be called the center of the region. The highlight here is the marine park. This is where you will be able to find seahorses.

For those who love whales, stop at Hermanus to watch them. It is a land based whale watching place. Oudtshoorn is the world's ostrich capital in the world. To see an ostrich race, go to cango caves. Port Elizabeth is made interesting by the fact that the political icon nelson Mandela was born here. The region also has some of the most beautiful beaches.

The stretch covers areas between Storms River and Heidelberg. The very name of the region was chosen following the ecologically diverse and verdant vegetation. There are lagoons and lakes along the coastal region. The areas here include Natures valley, Plentenberg Bay, Oudtshoorn, Knysna as well as Mossel Bay.